‘Empire’ Season 2 Episode 13 Review: ‘The Tameness of a Wolf’ Explores the Creation of Lucious Lyon
Recap and review of Empire – Season 2 Episode 13 – The Tameness of a Wolf:
One of the more interesting revelations of Empire Season 1 was the twist that Lucious Lyon was a completely fabricated persona. If anything, it was as much a survival tactic as a persona, since Lucious needed to become someone/something else in order to survive and thrive. “The Tameness of a Wolf” tells the story not only of how Lucious Lyon was created, but why the creation of that persona was necessary in order for the man formally known as Dwight Walker to survive.
The emotion of Lucious (Terrence Howard) and his story come out during the filming of the music video for “Boom Boom Boom Boom”, as Lucious essentially recreates his horrific childhood traumas, such as his mother nearly drowning him in a bathtub in an attempt to “cleanse” him, or his mother shooting herself in the head after realizing what she’d done. These are all elements that illustrate how the man everyone knows as Lucious Lyon was created through trauma. Napping under that lion statue, grieving the loss of his mother and fleeing from child protective services were all crucial parts of Lucious’s journey, since he came to recognize, from a very early age, that he needed to hustle to survive. And yet, the emotional resonance of Lucious’s journey has less to do with Lucious himself than with how this knowledge affects those around him. As Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) admits, she did seventeen years in prison for a man whose birth name she didn’t even know until now. That’s kind of crazy, when you think about how close those two have been. Even though they’ve argued as much as they’ve agreed, Cookie is still the closest Lucious has ever had to a ride-or-die woman, because they have the same goals — to see their legacy continue into future generations. They’re all about the empire, which is why it’s so strange that Cookie doesn’t already know any of these things about Lucious’s past. But it also speaks to how traumatizing that past is if he hasn’t told anybody about it in all these years. For her part, Cookie can hardly believe what she’s hearing, and she uses the eventual music video shoot as an opportunity to give Lucious the comfort he never received by giving a pep talk to the little boy playing Young Lucious. As if speaking to an actual Young Lucious, Cookie tells the boy that he will go on to inspire people, and that he should be proud of his work. Throughout, Lucious watches and listens with a smile slowly dawning on his face. Sure, she’s the mother of his children, but Cookie has a similarly maternal temperament with Lucious, at least in how she takes care of him. Whether it’s talking him out of going after Hakeem in the midseason premiere, or getting him to see how important it is for this music video to tell his whole life story, like she did tonight, Cookie knows what’s best for Lucious, even if he doesn’t always know himself. And that’s why their on-screen relationship works as well as it does. We know Lucious needs Cookie for her support and resourcefulness, just as much as Cookie needs Lucious for his business savvy and authority.
And yet, not everyone takes the news of Lucious’s past as well as Cookie does. When Cookie screens the music video for “Boom Boom Boom Boom” at her family birthday party, Andre (Trai Byers) flips out, realizing that bipolar disorder runs in the family. He essentially feels betrayed that he’s been made to feel like an outcast his entire life over his psychological problems, yet it comes from a traceable point in his family’s lineage. Lucious fires back against Andre for being crazy, and all this drama has the net effect of pushing Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) away from the Lyon family, as she decides to stay with Annika (Grace Gealey) to clear her mind. This, despite Rhonda being named the new creative director following Camilla’s death last week. It’s hard to blame Rhonda for wanting a break, since it’s clear that drama simply follows the Lyon family. Case in point, Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) manages to make money off the beef between Tiana (Serayah McNeill) and Laura (Jamila Velazquez) by recording a song with the two and performing it for a raucous audience. And it works, surprisingly, even though this wouldn’t even be an issue if Hakeem could bring himself to stop sleeping with his artists.
Of course, Hakeem does end up doing right by Laura by choosing to “make an honest woman of her,” as the expression goes. Yes, Hakeem proposes to Laura in front of a crowd of onlookers after the show, and it’s a rare moment where Hakeem seems truly, unconditionally happy. However, one of the onlookers is Tiana, and from the scowling expression in her eyes, I doubt she’s just going to let this go. But hey, at least no one in the Lyon family has murdered any of her loved ones, so she has things a bit easier than poor Freda Gatz (Bre-Z). In the cliffhanger to the episode, we learn just what a small world it is when it comes to the Lyons, as Cookie discovers that Freda is actually the daughter of her former drug boss, Frank Gathers. It seems inevitable that Freda will discover the truth about her father’s murder, but for now, she doesn’t even need that motivation to turn on Lucious. She considers bailing on the guy altogether once she discovers he’s cut her contributions from “Boom Boom Boom Boom”. And, honestly, I can’t say I blame her for being hurt, even though the song is made stronger narratively by having it focus on Lucious rather than Freda. It’s clear that this means a lot to Freda, and that her traumatic experiences in her upbringing are no less valid than Lucious’s, in her eyes. So having her part cut is a smack to the face, for Freda. It should be interesting to see how this feud plays out, since I think the murder of Frank Gathers is something that could come back to haunt Lucious in a big way. But for now, Empire seems focused on the music. And that’s a good thing. Hell, the best scene of the episode is Hakeem and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) returning to the hood to meet some local youths, which leads to an impromptu jam session with the world’s smoothest child rapper. Even though it might not have immediate relevance to the story, these sorts of scenes help establish the rapport between characters, while also illustrating how they’re perceived in their world. These kids look up to Hakeem and Jamal, and it’s an interesting contrast, given that we’re privy to what they’re really like behind the scenes. They might seem like gods, but they’ve got a ton of problems, the same as anyone else. Maybe not the same kinds of problems, mind you, but problems nonetheless. After all, they’re Lyons.
With that said, I kind of felt as though we didn’t get enough music this week, especially considering how strong last week’s episode was in the music department. But hey, there’s still plenty of Empire left to go, and if the coming episodes are as strong as “The Tameness of a Wolf” proved to be, then I’m definitely going to be looking forward to the home stretch of Season 2.
But what did you think of Empire Season 2 Episode 13, “The Tameness of a Wolf”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Empire, read our review of last week’s shocking episode, “A Rose By Any Other Name”!